Naples is a Paradise Inhabited by Devils —or, the jury is still out (as they say) —or 'close but no cigar' (as they say) —or, Who said 'as they
say'? —or, it's too
bad because Croce actually smoked cigars.
There are any
number of encyclopedias of quotations. I
particularly like lists of misquotes —that is, expressions
that everyone (except me) cites incorrectly: for example,
it's not "Money is the root of all evil," but "The love of money...etc." (1 Timothy 6:10).
Churchill did not say "blood, sweat and tears" but rather
"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and
sweat." *1 And detective
fiction's greatest sleuth Sherlock Holmes never said
"Elementary, my dear Watson." (It was close, but no
cigar.) (I stress "fiction" because a recent poll in
Britain shows that a lot of people apparently think
Sherlock Holmes was a real person: "Dude, like he's the
guy that caught Bob the Ripper! Awesome!"
are also many cases of accurate quotes attributed to the
wrong person. I have had at least one German tell me that
"To be or not to be" was by Goethe, and the other day a
Neapolitan woman told me that it was by Luigi Pirandello.
The expression "Naples is a paradise inhabited by devils"
is in this category somewhere.
all, Napoli è un
paradiso abitato da diavoli is a very well known
expression in Italian and especially in Naples. The first
time I came across it was in the English version; it was
in something by Mary Shelley. I don't remember what, but
she spent time in Naples and was always writing about it,
even in surprising ways (see Frankenstein).
I remember thinking what a clever turn of phrase it was,
and I assumed that she had originated it. Not so, though
the phrase in English (through Shelley) is still quite
current; in 2010 the Swiss composer, Christophe Terrettaz
(alias Ozymandias, after Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem of
that name) and singer Kelli Ali released an album called A Paradise Inhabited By
Devils that, according to the promos, was
"inspired by the short stories of Mary Shelley." The
phrase also pops up in academic writing (see A Paradise Inhabited by
Devils: The Jesuits' Civilizing Mission in Early Modern
Naples by Jennifer D. Selwyn, from 2004). The
author cites Benedetto Croce as having made her aware of
the phrase. (Discussion, below.)
coined the phrase? No one knows. Really, it's that simple.
It's amazing, though, how many Neapolitans assume that it
must have been Goethe. There are B & B's along the
Amalfi coast that have in their promotional literature:
"As Goethe once said, 'Naples is ...etc.etc.'." Letters to
the Editor in newspapers are pretty much the same thing:
"Goethe once said about our city that..." They all know
that he wrote a long-winded travelogue called Italian Journey (Italienische Reise)
and that he said witty things about Naples, so he must
have said that thing about paradise and devils, no?
I don't know
if Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ever uttered the phrase or
maybe wished he had invented it, but he never wrote it
down and —as absolutely no one ever once said in German (Zeig mir das Rindfleisch!—show me the
beef!).*2 In the entire Italian Journey,
Goethe uses the expression "Naples is a paradise" only
once and in a different context: on March 16, 1787, he
wrote "Neapel ist ein
Paradies, jedermann lebt in einer Art von trunkner
Selbstvergessenheit. Mir geht es ebenso, ich erkenne
mich kaum, ich scheine mir ein ganz anderer Mensch."
("Naples is a paradise. Everyone lives in a kind of
drunken absent-mindedness. It happens to me, too. I barely
recognize myself. I seem to be a very different person.")
What can I say? That happens to me, too. I barely
recognize myself. I seem to be a very different person.
Goethe is stingy, in general, with the word "Paradise".
Sometimes the trees outside his window are "paradise" and
a certain "Angelika" is "paradise, but Johann is too much
of a gentleman to expand on that and we are too discreet
to press the issue.
The only thing
certain is that when Goethe and, a bit later, Mary Shelley
were here, the phrase was current. It was on the lips of
any and everyone on the so-called Grand
Tour, but the phrase has a much older origin by at
least a couple of centuries. Benedetto Croce, historian,
philosopher and enthusiastic logophile set his
considerable skills to work on the problem and produced a
delightful book in 1923 called, of
all things, Un Paradiso
abitato da diavoli.*3
Croce has a couple of good leads, including a 1539 letter
by Bernardino Danièllo (1500-1565), an Italian scholar
known for commentaries on Dante and Petrarch, in which
Danièllo says that nature, in order to make up for having
granted the city such beauty, decided "di dare questo paradiso ad
habitare a diavoli" ("...to give this paradise
to devils to inhabit"). Croce has an even earlier
reference to one Piovano Arlotto, (pseudonym of Arlotto
Mainardi [1396–1484], a Florentine priest known for jests
and facezie (witty
Arlotto wrote that the air of Naples is all good, but that
the people are bad. If it weren't for the people, Naples
would be a Paradise! Croce concludes inconclusively; that
is, the expression probably arose in the 14th century
among the "foreign" (that is, from northern Italy)
communities of merchants in Naples.
wrote a commentary on the Croce book, is also the author of
his own L'altra Europa,
Per un antropologia storica del Mezzogiorno d'Italia
(The Other Europe, towards an historical
anthropology of Southern Italy).*5
One chapter is called Lo
stereotipo del napoletano e le sue variazioni regionali (Stereotypes
of the Neapolitan and regional varaiations). He discusses
the expression and says, essentially, that Croce's two early
examples are interesting but don't really pin down the
expression. Again, close but no cigar. (Gee, I wonder who
Even Croce's book
causes confusion. In February, 2012, the choir now known as
"I Turchini di Antonio Florio" (formerly called by
the historic name, the Choir of thePietà de’ Turchini) from
Naples gave a concert in Hamburg called Angels and Demons, Comic and
Serious opera in the 18th century. A blurb-promo
for the concert traced the title to "Croce's phrase" that
Naples was a paradise inhabited by devils. He didn't say
that. I didn't either (although it is the title of this
article). At least they didn't claim Goethe said it.
this reminds me that I had a friend in the army whose
favorite quote was "I hate quotations. Tell me what you
know." He was always quoting it. I don't think he
understood the irony, especially since he claimed it was
by Schopenhauer. (We were a well-read band of brothers. We
threw books at the Commies in the Cold War.) Apparently,
the phrase is by Ralph Waldo Emerson, but don't
quote me on that.
—1. The Churchill quote is a bit more complicated.
He made it famous, but it was originally used in English
by Theodore Roosevelt in an address to the Naval War College on June 2,
1897, following his appointment as Assistant Secretary of
the Navy, and Teddy got it from Giuseppe Garibaldi, who,
according to various sources, rallied his troops during
the defense of the Roman republic in 1849 by telling them
"Non ho null’altro da offrirvi se non sangue,
fatica, lacrime e sudore". ("I have nothing to offer you
but blood, toil, tears and sweat.")^up
—2.The expression 'Show me the beef!' is a
variation of 'Where's the beef?' an advertising slogan for
Wendy's® in a 1984 TV commercial. The ad agency was Dancer
Fitzgerald Sample. The ad was written by Cliff Freeman.^up
Reprinted with a forward and comments by Giuseppe Galasso.
Piccola Biblioteca, Adelphi, 2006, 3rd edition, ISBN:
—4. See Facezie del Piovano Arlotto,
commentary by G. Baccini, Firenze 1884. Also see Wit and Wisdom of the
Italian Renaissance by Charles Speroni.
University of California Press. 1964. ^up
—5. Alfredo Guida, Napoli.
2009. ISBN 978-88-6042-631.^up
—6. No takers on this one, but
the expression probably originates in early 20th-century
US carnivals where they commonly gave away cigars as
prizes at fairway games. If you came close but didn't
win, they said "Close, but no cigar." The first use in
print appears to be by Joel Sayre and John Twist in the published version of
their screen play of the 1935 RKO George Stevens film, Annie Oakley, a
scene in which Annie Oakley (played by Barbara Stanwyck)
says to Col. William Cody (alias Buffalo Bill, played by
Moroni Olsen), "Close, Colonel, but no
My thanks to Selene Salvi, a young woman
who eats archives for breakfast!